Casino Myths

March 02, 1995|By THOMAS C. SHANER

Several misconceptions persist about the casino-entertainment industry and what it means to a local community. The most pervasive are that casino gaming causes crime; that large numbers of persons will become addicted to gaming; that casinos prey on the poor, and that they reduce a community's quality of life.

None of these assertions is true.

The assumption of a connection between casinos and rising street crime is driven in large part by the experience of Atlantic City, where in the first decade after the introduction of casino gaming, there was an apparent sharp increase in reported crime. But 30 million new visitors a year descended upon Atlantic City after casinos were legalized. When the number of tourists is accounted for, the crime rate in the Atlantic City metropolitan area is not significantly different from that of areas without casinos that attract many tourists. And the crime rate in the Atlantic City metropolitan area (expressed in the number of crimes per 100,000 visitor-adjusted population) is comparable with the last year prior to casino gaming. (The rate of violent crimes is actually lower.)

Public statements made by chiefs of police and other community officials in jurisdictions that introduce riverboat gaming indicate that, for the most part, reductions in crime follow, partly because riverboat gaming brings economic development and new vitality decaying and crime-ridden areas. The assistant chief of police of Biloxi, Mississippi, Frank Duggan, for example, reported in 1994 that ''Dockside gaming . . . has not brought in the crime wave we thought it would.''

A 1994 paper prepared by one of the nation's foremost academic criminologists at Florida State University concluded: ''Available evidence does not support the conclusion that casinos cause crime. When population is adjusted for tourists and other visitors, crime rates in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Reno are lower than [those of] the major tourist cities in Florida.

Other states that, like Maryland, are considering gaming have researched the experiences elsewhere. Carl Baker, superintendent of state police in Virginia, concluded last year that riverboat and casino gambling brought no significant criminal problems to Illinois, Louisiana and Iowa.

Another argument is that organized crime may infiltrate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Casino gaming is the most highly regulated industry in our country. Each state has an extensive agency to keep out improper influences, and the language in the proposed legislation for Maryland, giving the Maryland State Police enforcement powers, is stronger than most.

In October 1993, Jim Moody, head of the FBI's Organized Crime Section, told a House of Representatives subcommittee that zTC ''states with strong regulations and enforcement are not experiencing an influx of organized crime activity.''

As to the concern of problem gambling, some people have difficulty controlling their behavior in various areas of life, ranging from alcohol use to shopping. A very small percentage of the public wagers more than it ought. Those individuals who cannot control wagering on sports events, lotteries, casino games, pari-mutuel events and bingo are commonly referred to as ''problem gamblers.'' Research published in February 1993 in Texas indicated that within the past year, about 0.8 percent of that state's adults experienced gambling problems so severe that they could be classified as ''pathological gamblers.''

The proposed legislation would increase the availability of riverboat and dockside casino gaming in Maryland. Marylanders already have extremely easy access to wagering opportunities, to which the proposed legislation would add only incrementally. According to one problem-gambling expert who helped set up Maryland's counseling services, ''In spite of such easy wagering systems as Keno, the Lottery and horse racing, there has been a decreasing number of per

sons seeking counseling in Maryland.''

The fact that very few people may have a gambling problem is little consolation to those who do. Every entity involved in legal wagering -- including government lottery officials, lottery retailers, horse breeders and future casino companies -- must provide help. The proposed casino legislation is the only gaming initiative in Maryland that recognizes this fact. It would levy a gaming tax to fund compulsive-gambling programs in Maryland. These funds, if not needed for problem gamblers, could be used for other addiction programs, including those for drugs and alcohol.

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